06 April 2017
The Saturday Evening Girls Club by Jane Healey
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: General adult fiction, women's fiction
Format: Free ARC through NetGalley (no compensation for review)
Expected publication date: 25 Apr 2017
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The Saturday Evening Girls Club by Jane Healey is a historical novel set in 1908 and based on a real organization by the same name. It follows four young women -- Caprice, Ada, Maria, and Thea -- who are daughters of Italian and Jewish immigrants in Boston's North End. Each of them is trying to reconcile their families' traditional ways with their own American-born ambitions. Caprice wants to open a shop, Ada is hiding her aspirations for higher education from her father, Maria's desire to protect her family is leading her down the wrong path, and Thea makes a choice to stick with tradition despite the disapproval of her friends.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book because I had forgotten what genre it was by the time I started reading it. For three-quarters of the book, it read like a novel for 12-year-old girls. I'm talking about books handed to girls when I was 12, not the angst-ridden YA novels that are aimed at that age group now. The usual types are represented: Maria is the head-turning beauty, Ada is the crazy smart one, Thea is the plain and chubby one (although Healey avoids saying it), and Caprice is the one who keeps them all together. It was all about the four main characters being friends to the end, a bit like a historical Babysitter's Club book. Despite reading young, the book occasionally has a melancholy tone because the women all realize that they are on the cusp of changes that will limit their time together. There were also some references to organized crime and domineering men in the last fourth of the book that almost made it read like an adult book, but not quite.
Healey says that she wrote this book after doing research on Paul Revere pottery, which was created by members of the actual Saturday Evening Girls Club and currently is considered a collector's item. I wish there had been more of the club's workings in the book. Instead, it was used mostly as the location for conversations. At the opening of the novel, the main characters have already been members of the club for seven years, so the reader doesn't get a sense of how the club has helped them in their lives, even though the characters are often saying thank you to the women who run it.
Overall, the book is fine. It is the kind of book that sits right in the middle. Healey gives us a slice of life in the 1900s in the tenements, but it is the sanitized version. Characters mention things like hunger and prostitution in passing, but the reader doesn't feel the sting of them. I can't really say that the book ends on a cliffhanger, but the reader says goodbye to the characters at the start of some major decisions and doesn't get to see them through. I would say that if you want a light historical to cleanse your reading palate between other books, this would be it.
The Saturday Evening Girls Club at Amazon
The Saturday Evening Girls Club at Book Depository